Biogenic soil crusts and soil depth: a long-term case study from the Central Negev desert highland



Wind-blown soil degradation is a major problem in arid regions. Biogenic soil crust consists of a dense growth of many small organisms covering bare desert soil surfaces in arid regions worldwide. These organisms perform essential services in the ecosystem, for example, soil surface stabilization and carbon and nitrogen fixation. A unique service provided by biogenic crusts is the incorporation of large quantities of deposited atmospheric particles, leading to a significantly enhanced rate of increase in soil depth in windy and arid environments. A long-term study (over 42 months) was conducted to investigate the contribution of a biogenic crust to the accumulation of atmospheric particles in an arid zone. Undisturbed and treated biogenic crusts were studied for their capacity to incorporate deposited particles. Atmospheric particles were found to accumulate on marble dust collectors at a rate of 120 g m−2 year−1 and on sterilized crust at a rate of 208 g m−2 year−1, while the accumulation rate on live, intact crusts was 277 g m−2 year−1, suggesting a soil depth accretion rate on an undisturbed biogenic crust of 10 mm every 33 years. Maintenance of a healthy biogenic crust in dry land environments should, therefore, be a major consideration for improving soil quality and increasing soil depth in arid regions.